07-21-18 Patricia Sargeant

Friday, August 24, 2012

Authors: Unorganized Labor

Unions—organized labor—championed the creation of Labor Day and its celebration of workers. While authors are workers, too, we’re a pretty unorganized labor force. We spend most of our days staring at computer screens in self-imposed solitary confinement—a definite hurdle to organizing fellow wordsmiths to bargain for improved pay (advances and royalties) or contract terms. As a result, we either sign with an agent or become our own negotiators or publishers, for better or worse. 

Yet we do join professional organizations, often flocking with other authors who share our interests. We become members to network, improve craft, gain/share publishing industry information, and, to a limited degree, to use our organizations’ clout to impact the marketplace. For instance, the founding of Sisters in Crime was driven, in large part, by the desire of women mystery authors to ban together and push for book review equality and visibility.  

Here are just a few of the dozens of genre-oriented organizations available to authors. Where I could find current membership statistics, I included them:
·        Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI): 22,000 members worldwide
·        Romance Writers of America® (RWA®): 10,250 members worldwide
·        Sisters in Crime (SinC): 3,000 members worldwide
·        Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA): 1,800 members worldwide
·        International Thriller Writers (ITW): 1,300 members worldwide
·        Historical Novel Society (HNS): 985 members
·        Mystery Writers of America (MWA): couldn’t find membership stats
·        Association of Christian Writers (ACW): couldn’t find membership stats

I’ve been a member of SinC since 2003 and RWA since 2005. I just joined ITW. While I have no first-hand knowledge of the other groups listed, it’s probably fair to say the Boards of all these organizations are struggling to adapt to dramatic industry changes—e-books, new distribution channels, self-publishing options, small press growth, and bookstore declines to name a few. In addition, a trend toward genre blending makes it difficult to say whether someone writes romance, mystery, paranormal, suspense or thriller novels.  

Some organizations have long based membership eligibility (or status within the group) on traditional publishing criteria, e.g. the author had to sell to a “recognized” publisher and needed to earn a set dollar amount as an advance and/or in combination with royalties for full “professional” membership status. Selection by a “recognized” publisher implied the work met professional standards. Many groups are backing away from such criteria as more and more talented authors choose to self-publish or sign with e-book or niche publishers to reach their goals. I’m all for this move toward more egalitarian membership standards. In fact, I love the fact that SinC membership is open to readers as well as authors. Our local SinC chapter certainly benefits from this membership mix.

Then there’s the matter of defining genre. A current controversy within RWA relates to a decision to eliminate the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements (NSRE) from its two premiere contests—the Golden Heart® for unpublished authors and the RITA® for published authors. Many members of RWA’s Kiss of Death chapter (to which I belong) have expressed dismay at this decision, especially given that so many of today’s best-selling novels combine romance with other genres from paranormal and mystery to inspirational and young adult. Why exclude members from key recognition opportunities if romance is an important element in their craft and their novels might encourage others to read books with romance?

Do you belong to a genre-oriented writing organization? If so, what kind of membership standards do you want it to adopt? What kind of support do you look for from your writing groups--craft, marketing, legal/contract expertise, other?


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I belong to Sisters in Crime (3 chapters), MWA and Epic which is for electronically published writers http://epicorg.com has an annual conference and focuses on e-book publishing and promotion;

My favorite is Public Safety Writers Association
http://www.policewriter.com/ has a membership of about 200 plus, an annual conference, and has many law enforcement members but also anyone who writes about public safety fields in fiction or non-fiction. Excellent research resources of mystery writers.

Donnell said...

Linda, I belong to RWA, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime. I belong mainly for networking -- writing is a lonely profession -- but also for the education. RWA is great for providing craft, RMMWA is fantastic for providing monthly programs from LEO professions.

Polly said...

I've belonged to Sisters in Crime, RWA, and MWA for years. This year I joined EPIC because they cater to electronic publishing. Since I'm published by two e-publishers under a pen name, and self published under my own, EPIC, more than other groups, recognizes that e-publishing is here to stay. I am wavering about renewing my membership in a couple of the groups to which I belong because they haven't supported indie authors. Why should I support a group with my hard-earned money that doesn't support me? I don't think I'm alone.

Linda Lovely said...

Polly--I hear you. I need to learn more about EPIC. I think the important thing for author organizaitons is that they need to understand that times are changing and it's time to free themselves of some out-dated constraints.

Linda Lovely said...

Marilyn & Donnell--I think the value of membership in different organizations varies greatly with the types of programs local chapters offer. Our Upstate SC Chapter of Sisters in Crime, which meets monthly, has consistently provided excellent speakers in law enforcement or allied fields as well as regional mystery/romantic suspense authors willing to share their knowledge.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I don't belong to any organizations at present--although I do see the benefits of belonging. My novels combine romance and mystery and sometimes the paranormal. So I think it's important for romance organizations to note that these days there are many mixed genre novels.

Jacqueline Seewald
DEATH LEGACY--romantic suspense/mystery

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

MWA and SinC are the two organizations I've joined as a writer. I am currently a member of SinC, Inc. and SinC/Hawaii.

As a self-published author, I am not as aware of the restrictions some groups set (going along my merry way at my own speed). I would find it frustrating, though, to find my genre was eliminated from entry in a premiere contest. It would be like training for the Olympics and learning your sport was cut.

Linda Lovely said...

Gail, I like your analogy. I'm sure that's how many RWA members felt about the contest changes. I'm looking forward to getting involved with the International Thriller Writers to see how that organization works.

Phyllis Humphrey said...

I, too, am a member of RWA and was in SinC for awhile. RWA is expensive, especially since you have to belong before you can join a local chapter or a special chapter. I'm looking into ITW and MWA, if my mystery finally sells.

Anna Taylor Sweringen said...

Hi Linda,

Thanks for this topic. I'm leaving RWA this year and have been investigating other writing groups to replace my online chapters (the only reason I remained with RWA this long). American Christian Fiction Writers is the best fit for me so far. They have about 2500 members, the renewal fee ($45) is less than the first time joining fee ($65). I really feel like I'm part of an organization that really promotes the genre for both writers and readers. I'm checking out EPIC because I'm e-pubbed (but not PAN eligible - another reason I'm leaving RWA) and am looking for a good place to land once I no longer have KOD.

Linda Lovely said...

Good luck to you, Anna. The promotion with readers IS important. I'm sure others will be interested in the ACFW group you mention. I love KOD, though, so I'll be sticking.

Nancy Means Wright said...

An excellent blog, Linda. I've belonged to SinC and SinC/NE, to MWA and to SCBWI since the nineties. Also to the Author's Guild which goes to bat for many of us and offers contract expertise. And I find them all invaluable-particularly the conferences and newsletters they offer. Although I've a YA novel from a major NY publisher, I've also won an Agatha Award for a kids' mystery from a small press which SCBWI would not announce in its newsletter because the press used POD. With a new YA coming out soon from LLDreamspell, I'm going to fight this prejudice! More than ever we writers need support!

Linda Lovely said...

Nancy, You and I both know POD is just a means of printing and larger publishers are starting to embrace it. How a book's printed has nothing to do with quality. That shouldn't be a reason to ignore a novel. You're right, we need all the support we can get!

Judith Ashley said...

Great post as always, Linda. I belong to RWA and three chapters (Rose City, Greater Seattle, and Desert Rose). I've not tried any of the on-line chapters.

The industry is changing and during this chaotic and rapid growth/change period that, when the dust settles, will be of benefit to readers and writers alike.

When you see NY published authors walk away from contracts to self-publish one hopes that messag is heard loud and clear in the publishing industry.

I think when your writing fits more in a niche market, this is an exciting time!

Linda Lovely said...

Judith, You're right. This is an exciting time. But it's also frustrating. Input overload is a definite problem. Trying to decide what publishing route, promotional efforts, and organizations are right for you. It can get expensive. I belong to six local and/or online chapters of RWA and SINC. The dues add up.

Paty Jager said...

I'm a member of RWA and a local writing chapter COWG. I tried a western writers group but didn't feel I received what I was looking for from them. I tried to join MWA years ago and felt snubbed. I need to look into Sisters in Crime.

Good informational post!

Cindy Sample said...

Good post, Linda, as always. I belong to 3 different SINC chapters and I enjoy networking on-line with the ones that are too difficult for me to drive to on a regular basis. Just one local RWA chapter so far. And MWA. They all provide wonderful educational opportunities as well as networking opportunties. So far I intend to keep paying the dues although the total was a bit of a shock when I did my income taxes. I never cease to be amazed how supportive these groups are to their member base, whether we have a new release, a new blog post, or something personal that we've shared with the group. I'm grateful for their support and encouragement and definitely would not be a published author without them.

Anita Page said...

Like Cindy, I'm grateful for the educational opportunities and support offered by SinC and MWA, and most important, the friends I've made by joining the local chapters as well as the national organizations.

James S. Dorr said...

Then there's the Horror Writers Association (HWA)and the webgroup Short Mystery Fiction Sociaty (SMFS), with the latter group being free!

Megan Kelly said...

NWSRE means it's not a Romance but it has a love story in it. Different thing. RWA is an organization for romance writers. If you write Romance most of the time, you're qualified, even if you pub a mystery, women's fiction or sci-fi occasionally. If you write women's fiction w/ a love story, that book has a different focus. Rom suspense is supposed to be HALF romance, half suspense. Otherwise it's a mystery with a love story. I understand why members feel slighted at RWA adjusting their membership levels and their contests. But non-Rom writers can be associate members & continue their education. As a romance writer, I don't expect a Sci Fi organization's contest to have a contemporary romance category, even though sci fi sometimes has a love story in it. Let's be realistic.

Linda Lovely said...

James, I don't write Horror or short stories, but have friends that do. Will be sure to mention these options.

Christy Tillery French said...

Linda, I formerly belonged to RWA and MWA but haven't renewed in a couple of years although continue to waver on rejoining. I belong to EPIC along with several regional writers groups. I do think I'll join Writers Guild this year. I like what they offer their members.